Earlier today, someone emailed me to ask what I thought about Hillary "playing the woman card" in response to Tuesday night's debate, aka the Attack-a-Thon. His feeling was that it was unfair to attribute the "pile on" to Hillary's being a woman, when she's up about 30% nationally, making her a natural target of the other candidates. Because I've seen a lot of comments in this vein, and particularly because some of them (unlike the aforementioned email) have been quite genuinely nasty, accusing Hillary of playing the "damsel in distress" and being anti-feminist, I'm going to share my reply to the email inquiry as a sort of catch-all response to all the charges along this spectrum.
It absolutely seems like a no-brainer to chalk this up to the fact that the other primary challengers are just going after the frontrunner—because they are going after her and that is logical. What's not being acknowledged, though, and where Hillary has a point (in spite of her not coming right out and saying this, because she simply can't without looking like an arrogant jerk) is that it's probably pretty unusual for so many people to be in a race where the frontrunner is up about 30% nationally, not to mention kicking fundraising ass and showing in most match-ups to be capable of beating all of the possible contenders from the opposition party.
Now, bear in mind that I'm not thrilled (as you know) with Hillary being the Dem frontrunner, because of some of her policy positions, so I'm not saying that I don't want other candidates to stay in and challenge her, and I'm not saying I don't think they should.
What I am saying, given that Hillary is firmly entrenched in the D.C. Democratic establishment and in line with the party platform, is that if Hillary were a man in that position—acceptable candidate with mainline party positions, 30 point lead, and seemingly unlimited fundraising potential—I sincerely doubt that there would still be a stage full of dudes trying to beat her.
I'm not saying I think those guys are misogynists; I just think they recognize (consciously or not) that she has a vulnerability because a lot of voters in the country are misogynists.
So, I don't think it's unfair for her to say they're going after her because she's a woman, although there's a nuance there that's getting missed—though it doesn't necessarily exonerate the guys, if they're trading on other people's sexism, you know? When I hear Edwards going on about how she's not electable, I cringe—because it doesn't matter how you parse it; at its essence, that's a message about her Being A Girl.
Distilling all that down, what I'm saying is that the individual challenges during that debate are not, in my opinion, motivated by any candidate's individual issues with Hillary being a woman. (Except maybe Biden, who's a sexist wanker.) But I do think that there are so many men, nearly all of whom are an incredible long shot for the nomination, still in the race when she's a mainstream, powerhouse candidate, speaks to the fact that she's generally being challenged because of her sex.
FWIW, I think she ought to be challenged. I would think a man in precisely her position with her policies ought to be challenged, too—that's good for our democracy. I just think it's totally unlikely that he ever would be. And that's not unimportant.
What I didn’t put in my email response, but will add upon further consideration, is that if the man in the best position to throw a wrench in the Hillary works wasn't black, that, too, would likely effect the number of long shots still vying for the nom. And, again, I'm not suggesting that the candidates themselves are racists, but that they know a lot of voters are.
Which also reminds me of something else I've been seeing a lot of—progressives who say they aren't personally sexist or racist, but think so many other people are, that they can't support Hillary or Obama. And I'm seeing this so frequently lately that I'm wondering if there isn't going to be a vast problem for either or both of them in the primaries based on a ton of people who presume the worst about others, inadvertently turning their sex and race respectively into a liability for all the wrong reasons.
And that variable brings us back to why there are so many dudes hanging around waiting to see what happens in the primaries, despite a frontrunner who was the presumed nominee before she even announced.